Hyperactivity is a common response to over-tiredness. We often talk about children being 'wired', and children are sometimes falsely diagnosed with ADHD when they are actually chronically sleep deprived. So relying on exhaustion is clearly not a good strategy for many children.
I need to just state for the record that some children genuinely don't need as much sleep as others! But you'll know your child is one of these if when they do go to sleep, they sleep well, and seem rested and perky in the day, and don't get hyperactive by the late afternoon.
If however, you're struggling with meltdowns at teatime, crazy racing around behaviour, hyperactivity and frequent evening waking then consider whether over tiredness is the culprit.
The problem is that when our bodies are under stress (from tiredness) we release adrenaline, and cortisol. These hormones are really important because they keep us going when we're running on empty, but the stress that this puts our bodies under is not fun in the long run. Children wake frequently in the night when this is a problem because the brain is skipping the deep portion of sleep in order to prioritise the REM stage of sleep, where the brain organises itself. This manifests in frequent waking soon after they finally go down for the night. Not cool.
My top tips:
1) Don't skip naps! If your child is under 2.5yrs, they probably still need a nap. A later bedtime, followed by consolidated sleep is better than an early bedtime with numerous wake ups.
2) The antidote to cortisol is oxytocin. Oxytocin is the love hormone and it is triggered through touch, positive interactions, breastfeeding, and long hugs! So try calming the atmosphere down, dim the lights, give your little one a massage, try a bath with lavender, and a calm snuggle with a story.
3) If your child repeatedly wakes at the same time, try setting an alarm, and get to them 5-10 minutes before you think they will wake to try to help them transition between sleep states. Many children struggle to drift form light sleep into deep sleep and this triggers a wake up (rather like that sensation of falling off a cliff that we sometimes get when we're falling asleep). If you can be there and help them through this transition then they will in time be able to do it themselves.
4) If bedtime is going on for more than an hour, try delaying bedtime for 30 minutes or so. If your child spends lots of time awake in their bed then this means they will associate their bed with being awake, rather than asleep. The concept of good 'sleep hygiene' is important for all of us - it's why you shouldn't work in your bed, or stay in bed despite struggling to go to sleep for more than about 20-30 minutes. You're better off getting up, so that your bed is not associated with stress, frustration and sleeplessness. Same for your children.
5) If your child simply will not sleep - look at their diet. Do they have grey bags under their eyes? In very young children this is usually a sign of intolerance, not tiredness. So, keep a food diary for a week. Work out which foods make your child hyperactive, which ones seem conducive to sleep, and which ones give them an upset tummy or make reflux worse. Eliminate that trigger food and you may resolve the sleep.
6) Look at your child's nutritional status. I talk about this all the time! Iron deficiency anaemia, low vitamin levels (especially vitamin D) and low calcium can all impact on sleep. If your child is a fussy eater, consider a good quality vitamin supplement. I'm also a BIG fan of probiotics. We are only just beginning to realise the impact of our gut health on our overall health. Probiotics are the 'good' bacteria in our gut that keep the 'bad' bacteria at bay and stop us getting sick.
7) Make sure your child gets plenty of exercise, fresh air, and natural daylight to regulate their internal body clock, and wear them out physically. Check my earlier blog on this: http://www.littlesleepers.co.uk/little-sleepers-blog---more-than-just-sleep-tips/five-a-day-for-a-good-nights-sleep-and-i-dont-mean-apples-and-bananas
I hope that helps a little!